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12 red-cockaded woodpeckers have a new home

News Release

Friday, October 29, 2010

Media contact: Karen Parker, 386-758-0525; Gabriella B. Ferraro, 772-215-9459

It took all night, but the red-cockaded woodpecker experts were able to accomplish their mission.

The catch teams captured 12 of the rare birds and moved them to their new home, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists.

Six pairs of red-cockaded woodpeckers from the Citrus Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Citrus and Hernando counties are now residing in the J.W. Corbett WMA in Palm Beach and Martin counties.

"This was the first time Citrus had donated this many birds, and because of the dedicated work of multiple agencies, it was a great success," said Marsha Ward, FWC biologist in South Florida.

This relocation was part of the Southern Range Translocation Cooperative program. The goal of this program is to boost smaller, isolated populations or reintroduce populations by relocating red-cockaded woodpeckers from larger, sustainable donor populations.

"This is the result of a decade of monitoring, banding, habitat management and teamwork," said Nancy Dwyer, FWC biologist. "The goal of making Citrus WMA a red-cockaded woodpecker donor site has been achieved."

Citrus WMA's endangered woodpeckers had 53 successful nests this year. The Florida Division of Forestry and FWC staff jointly manage the population.

Prior to the relocation, biologists at Citrus WMA tracked down the birds they wanted to move. The day of the capture, teams fanned out through the area to prepare for the birds' return to their nests.

According to Travis Blunden, FWC biologist, "We had 10 teams (20 people) involved with the capture. One person would act as the spotter and track the bird as it flew to its cavity hole, and the other would wait in hiding with a net, ready to catch the bird once it entered its roost."

Once in the net, team members checked the red-cockaded woodpeckers' sex and leg bands, to make sure they had trapped the correct birds. The Corbett crew took the birds to the new nesting site.

"Even though staff worked tirelessly through the night, they were glad to have a donor close enough so they did not have to hold the birds an extra day in captivity," said Ward.

The red-cockaded woodpecker is a medium-sized bird with distinctive white cheek patches and a black-and-white barred back. Males have a tiny red patch or "cockade" behind the eye.  They are very rare because they require open stands of old-growth pine.

The birds live in small family groups, composed of one breeding pair and a helper or two. The extra birds usually are males from previous breeding seasons; females rarely stay with their parents. The helpers assist in raising the young, including feeding them and defending them against predators and territorial disputes. The entire family usually forages as a group, moving together from tree to tree. They feed primarily on ants, beetles, caterpillars, wood-boring insects, spiders and cockroaches, as well as fruits and berries.

"The bird requires old-growth pines to nest in, chipping out a cavity in the living tree.  They don't use dead trees for roost or nest cavities.  Once logging became commonplace, the population suffered," Dwyer said. "Red-cockaded woodpeckers were given federal protection as an endangered species in 1973.  In Florida, the bird is listed as a species of special concern."

Almost 97 percent of red-cockaded woodpecker habitat has been lost in the past 100 years, according to FWC biologists.

Florida hosts approximately 25 percent of the nation's red-cockaded woodpecker population, with an estimated 1,100 active family groups. Most of Florida's populations are on public lands and managed carefully.

On J.W. Corbett WMA, intensive land-management practices - such as prescribed fire, exotic plant control and mechanical vegetation removal - have been used.  As of today, the Corbett population has made great strides, partly due to the success of previous translocations, and it now has 15 active clusters with 12 potential breeding groups.  In 2010, eight groups had successful nests, producing a total of 12 fledglings.

"The red-cockaded woodpecker is on the road to recovery," said Ward. "And although that road may be bumpy at times, with continued efforts from the many dedicated biologists working with this species, we hope to one day remove this endearing bird from the endangered species list."

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